It’s official. I am 99% sure that I am the very first Americn to have ever spent Christmas Day in Rovigo, Italy. If there are any other Americans out there who can claim to have survived this experience, please message me and I will include you in the hall of fame.
Rovigo has been voted the most boring town in all of Italy by Italian people (no joke). There’s even an expression in Italian that says “Rovigo, Rovigo, non mi intrigo” which means “Rovigo Rovigo, it doesn’t intrigue me”. It’s a small town located in the region of Veneto. It just so happens to be where my boyfriend and his family are from, as well as where I have been held in captivity for the past 10 days including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s.
In reality I actually have a soft spot Rovigo – it’s small, super flat and although it’s not the most beautiful town in all of Italy, it’s got its charachteristics, namely a thick layer of mysterious fog during the winter and a ritual Sunday night happy hour that serves up some of the best spritz cocktails in the world.
So you may be wondering – what is it like to spend Christmas with an Italian family? Well to be honest I can’t really tell you. You’d have to poll thousands of Italians to really know the right answer, since every Italian family has different traditions, foods and customs, particularly as you move from region to region. I can tell you, however, what it’s like to spend Christmas with a family from Rovigo.
By the way – this is a COSÌ post. COSÌ stands for Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy. We’re a group of bloggers that write about a particular theme each month, each sharing our own take on that paritcular topic. If you want to know more about it and read other blogger’s posts, just head on over to the COSI facebook page and look out for new topics every month.
My First Christmas in Italy
On both Christmas Eve Day and Christmas Day we had a lunch that I thought was never going to end – I’m talking 5 to 6 course meals. Food was just everywhere, non-stop. There was no opportunity to even say, “no thank you, I’lll pass”. The moment I finished one dish, another one would magically appear in front of me. So I just started to adopt the attitude of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Okay what the hell, another plate of pasta won’t hurt at this point”.
Just to give you an idea, here is a list of everything we ate (handmade with love by boyfriend’s mother):
Cappelletti in brodo: ‘Cappelletti’ are a sort of pasta similar to tortellini – they are made of fresh egg pasta that are then stuffed with meat and parmesan cheese, rolled up and then boiled and served in meat broth.
Pasticcio – ‘Pasticcio’ means ‘baked pasta’. This particular one was like a lasagna – layered with meat ragu and a creamy besciamel sauce.
Cotechino con lenticche e puree – ‘Cotechino’ is a typical “sausage” eaten at Christmas time – it’s a mixture of meat and other animals parts all stuffed inside a casing. It’s really soft, mushy and fatty and it’s almost always served with lentils (which are supposed to bring good luck) and mashed potatoes.
Fresh “salami” sausage – I know when you think of salami you think of the hard cured kind – the type we put on pizza and call ‘pepperoni’. However this type of ‘salami’ is more like a big fat savory sausage that is cooked on the grill and served hot.
Arrosto – Roasted pork loin
Melanzane marinate – Marinated eggplant
Insalata – Salad
Panpapato – a dense chocolate cake with nuts, dried fruit and rhum. Literally translates as “bread of the pope”
Panettone – sweet, yeasty bread with candied fruit
Pandolce – Pandolce is similar to panettone but denser and not as fluffy. My boyfriend and I brought this cake from Genova since it is typical of Liguria.
Dried fruit and nuts
Plus wine and coffee…
So we ate that for lunch and dinner for two days in a row like there was no tomorrow. I think I spent more time sitting at the kitchen table eating, munching or drinking than I did anything else.
THE AFTER PARTY
After eating lunch, out came the cards and the grappa! Of course the playing cards were not the ones that I’m used to (spades, hearts, diamonds…) but Italian playing cards, which have completely different symbols and suits (swords, sticks, coins, and chalices). The game of choice was “Bestia”, although scopa, briscola and tombola were all suggested. The first few rounds I didn’t play because I was super confused by the cards but I throroughly enjoyed watching everyone throwing down cards and tossing euro coins across the table and shouting in Veneto dialect “DIO BO!”.
At some point during the two days gifts were exchanged and I was surprised at how much food was unwrapped. Zio (Uncle) Carlo brought long boxes of San Felice salami from Modena for everyone (which subsquently got unwrapped and eaten by the dog), while Zia Anita gave big boxes of candied orange rinds which nobody was too excited about (except me). Another Zia gave each family a bag of homemade tortellini (to be placed immediately in the freezer). Zio Giorgio brought three or four bottles of quality prosecco, while the cousins gave a whopping Don Perignon champagne and panettonne from Milan. Moral of the story – food is a perfectly acceptable present to give, as long as it’s a quality Italian product.
WHERE ARE THE STOCKINGS?
One thing I was surpsied about was that I saw no stockings on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day. In my family, it’s always a tradition to hang your stockings on the fireplace and wait for Santa to come to fill it with lots of goodies and treats. For Italians, hanging your stockings is not a tradition for Christmas, but rather for the Epiphany (January 6th) when the Befana (an old but good witch) comes and fills the stockings with candy and other treats. If you go to an Italian supermarket during the days after Christmas you’ll notice big containers full of pre-stuffed stockings for the Befana.
I can proudly say that I survived my first Italian Christmas (In Rovigo of all places) and am ready for the New Year’s festivities (in Rovigo of all places).
And you? What was your Italian Christmas like?